In 2010, Andrew Cilek went to his local polling place in Hennepin County, Minnesota, to vote. Cilek was wearing a T-shirt that had three different images on it: the Tea Party logo, the message “Don’t Tread on Me,” and an image of the Gadsden flag, which dates back to the American Revolution but is often associated these days with the Tea Party and libertarianism. Cilek also wore a small button bearing the message “Please I.D. Me,” worn by opponents of voter fraud. An election worker in the polling place told Cilek he would have to cover up or take off the shirt and button. Cilek refused to do so, and later made two more attempts to enter the polling place. On his third try, he was allowed to vote, but an election worker took down his name and address.
The source of the clash was a Minnesota law which provides that a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day.” Cilek may have gotten mad at the state for restricting his apparel, but he also decided to get even: He was also a co-founder of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, which describes itself as a “nonpartisan political organization” made up of “citizens, volunteers, and experts committed to safeguarding and improving our elections process.” And next week the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the group’s challenge to the constitutionality of the Minnesota law.
In its brief at the Supreme Court, the MVA tells the justices that wearing clothes and other apparel with messages on them “is a time-honored and affordable way for the average citizen to peaceably speak out about politics and other issues.” Minnesota’s ban on “political” apparel at the polling places violates the First Amendment, the MVA argues, because it sweeps far too broadly: It prohibits any references not only to political candidates and political parties, but also to political ideologies, political symbols and current issues. Thus, the MVA contends, the law would bar clothing and apparel bearing the Peace and Freedom Party’s peace-dove symbol, even though that party did not have any candidates on the ballot in Minnesota in 2010.